Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
L.A.’s popular open-streets day reduces air pollution, even beyond the dedicated route.
For one day every few months, CicLAvia shuts down a cluster of high-traffic L.A. streets to cars and opens them to humans. Using bikes, skateboards, wheelchairs, strollers, and feet, hundreds of thousands of people cruise, dine, and gander along the route.
It’s for good reason that the wildly popular event series, which began in 2010, is often held up as harbinger of the ‘new L.A.’: a city where entry shouldn’t require a car, where public space and street life are valued, and, perhaps, where the air is little easier to breathe.
According to a new study published in Environmental Pollution by UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, CicLAvia significantly cuts down on air pollution along the closed-off route—and even on streets beyond it.
Los Angeles has long struggled with particle pollution levels well above the EPA’s standards. Vehicles are the biggest contributor of these pollutants, which increase residents’ risk of lung and heart disease.
The new study measured air quality during the October 2014 CicLAvia, which closed off traffic around downtown and east L.A. (Encircled by freeways, these areas have some of the worst air quality in California.) Compared to days before and after the event, the presence of “ultrafine” particles along shut-down streets dropped by 21 percent, while slightly larger “fine” particles were reduced by 49 percent. Streets that were close to the route, but still had auto traffic, showed a 12 percent reduction of fine particulate matter.
This isn’t the first proven co-benefit of CicLAvia: Previous studies have shown local businesses do better on CicLAvia days, and that people who participate get more exercise than they normally do.
The numbers of this particular study could be improved by analyzing future events, the researchers say. But the results do suggest that all L.A. residents would benefit from more CicLAvia days—and fewer cars on the road in general. The city’s new Mobility Plan 2035 strongly echoes that belief. Here’s hoping that new L.A. isn’t so far into the future.